Ha­mas-Fatah deal is the start of a long road

▶ We’ve been down this way be­fore, so can the new agree­ment achieve the im­pos­si­ble?

The National - News - - OPINION -

After years of dis­agree­ment and dishar­mony, a glim­mer of hope may have emerged for or­di­nary Pales­tini­ans. Of­fi­cials have con­firmed that a pre­lim­i­nary unity deal has been reached be­tween Fatah and Ha­mas, which is still on the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism black­list. The agree­ment is an ex­tra­or­di­nary and wel­come break­through, as the two groups have been at odds since clashes be­tween the pair broke out in 2007.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, part of the ini­tial agree­ment would en­sure that forces from the West Bank-based Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity would take con­trol of the Rafah Bor­der Cross­ing be­tween Gaza and Egypt. So far so good.

That Ha­mas has agreed to re­lin­quish some civil pow­ers in Gaza to Fatah speaks to the cur­rent air of res­ig­na­tion that fills the Strip. The ter­ri­tory is al­most un­live­able for its two mil­lion in­hab­i­tants and con­di­tions have crum­bled at an alarm­ing pace since Ha­mas took con­trol a decade ago. Those who live there are starved of ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, such as power and ac­cess to clean wa­ter. This ap­palling sit­u­a­tion has only served Is­rael’s strate­gic in­ter­ests, while putting the prospect of a just and hon­est broader peace seem­ingly fur­ther out of reach.

But we have been here be­fore. After all, Fatah and Ha­mas’s last agree­ment to form a na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion gov­ern­ment in 2014 changed lit­tle, as Ha­mas’s gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to pull the strings in Gaza.

More tan­gi­ble de­tails of the deal made at the talks in Cairo will emerge over the com­ing days, although we do know al­ready that it will cover a broad range of ad­min­is­tra­tive is­sues. But it can only be held to­gether if Ha­mas agrees to dis­arm, which is some­thing it has re­fused to do, de­spite agree­ing for its mem­bers to take on roles within the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity.

Egypt was right to ac­tively take over the baton from Qatar and Turkey (both of which had strong self-in­ter­ested agen­das to push through try­ing to for­tify Ha­mas) not least be­cause it shares a bor­der with Gaza. Cairo’s ac­tive role in bro­ker­ing an agree­ment has been seen by many com­men­ta­tors as the main source of mo­men­tum, as nei­ther fac­tion wanted to be seen as let­ting down ne­go­ti­a­tions.

And yet, even if all goes well on the ground and Ha­mas of­fi­cials be­gin work­ing un­der the wing of a unity deal, for­eign aid donors and Is­rael will no doubt be scru­ti­n­is­ing how Ha­mas’s mem­bers are in­te­grated into Pales­tinian min­istries and what roles they will play. Com­men­ta­tors have al­ready pointed to a le­gal con­flict with those coun­tries and or­gan­i­sa­tions that deem Ha­mas a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In short, while the lat­est agree­ment may be a break­through, much stands to go wrong given the multi-di­men­sional na­ture of what has to be re­solved. Only time will tell whether prag­ma­tism or pol­i­tics will pre­vail.

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